The New Testament is home to some five documents attributed to a John, namely: the Gospel of John, three letters, and the book of Revelation. It is widely accepted, on the internal evidence, that the gospel and letters were written by the same person (1). Several clues confirm this, namely that the Christology, Eschatology (which involves the new age, order, era), and Soteriology (the study of salvation) appear consistent among the Johannine writings. Hence, there is a high probability that a single author is involved here.
Although tradition holds that the gospel was authored by the “beloved disciple” (John 21:24) most scholars reject this (1). It is also widely held that the Gospel of John does not derive from a single author as it has been suggested that the gospel had gone through several editions before reaching its final form (2) (3). Another reason why the author was almost certainly not the Apostle John is that it is so different from the synoptic gospels – most scholars view John as independent of the Synoptics (Mark, Matthew, Luke): “We may never know for certain who wrote the Gospel of John, any more than we can know who wrote the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke. We do know that John is a gospel apart… John, however, does not include the same incidents or chronology found in the other three Gospels…” (4). It is also worth considering how an uneducated (Acts 4:13) fisherman (see Luke 5:7, Mark 1:20), in a time where very few people had literary skills, could have authored a whole gospel explaining such rich, expressive theological details. This would suggest that John was not the author of the gospel bearing his name. The external evidence (an account by Irenaeus) suggesting the traditional view is also too late to count as strong evidence.
However, it is thought that John’s gospel arose in a Jewish Christian community in the process of breaking from the Jewish synagogue (5). The gospel shows an intimacy with Jewish traditions and the affairs of Jesus’s day, a knowledge of the city of Jerusalem and the Temple and an intimate relationship with Jesus and the events of his ministry (6). The author is also evidently hostile to Jesus’ enemies who he calls “the Jews.” Yet the author does regard himself as a Jew and he likely wrote his gospel for a Jewish audience (7).
So, we can know that the author was a Jew, that he wrote for a Jewish audience, and that he knew about Jewish customs, Jerusalem & Jesus’ ministry. Although he was a Jew he is also evidently hostile to the Jewish enemies of Jesus. To this end we shouldn’t doubt the author as a credible, authoritative source to the ministry of Jesus.
1. New Testament Foundations. p. 58.
2. Edwards, R. 2015. Discovering John: Content, Interpretation, Reception. p. ix.
3. Ehrman, B. 2004. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. p. 164-165.
4. Biblical Archaeology Staff. 2014. Gospel of John Commentary: Who Wrote the Gospel of John and How Historical Is It? Available.
5. Burkett, D. 2002. An introduction to the New Testament and the origins of Christianity. p. 215-216.
6. New Testament Foundations. p. 59.
7. Senior, D. 1991. The Passion of Jesus in the Gospel of John. p. 155-156.